Keeping It Real
The stakes were high for Pierpaolo Piccioli. With the departure of his long-time collaborator and co-designer Maria Grazia Chiuri last July (they had worked together at Valentino for 19 years), he now had to prove his individual prowess. Taking a risk by toying with the romantic aesthetic they had so carefully crafted would seem like the last thing on the cards – but that, Piccioli did. The current fashion climate begets fashion that leans towards extreme provocation or absolute minimalism, and his move this Spring/Summer 2017 was neither. And it turned out to be a gamble that paid off.
What does every woman want? To feel special and happy with her own personality and body. The collection understood and recognised this with wide-cut tailoring and trapeze dresses. It said: “Women should be treated as women rather than imaginary characters.”
Furthermore, the collection made dressing to the nines practical: The slashed trench cape/coat – perfect for throwing over pyjamas if you’re lazy to change to grab groceries first thing in the morning. Got an important family dinner? A friend’s nuptials? An awards event to attend? One low-cut, black satin dress looked appropriate for all three occasions. Getting red-carpet ready would simply require some diamonds; with some nice earrings, it would shine at a wedding yet not outshine the bride. And for a movie date, what caught our attention was the look that comprised a simple well-cut shirt, relaxed velvet-jacquard trousers and a cute fuchsia jumper.
Few collections on the runway are literally ready-to-wear. On most occasions, they have to be picked apart because they don’t translate well in real life. Valentino’s medley of wearable looks this season makes your life easier and more beautiful.
Valentino achieved a sense of seductiveness not with precise body-conscious or exposed pieces but instead, through a sensitive play of cuts and use of materials. The silhouettes were loose and light without compromising on detail. That’s something profoundly liberating. No silly fringe or inane bows; no tutus or corsets, either.
Maxi-dresses were designed to perfection and were anything but matronly, with details that bring out the best anatomical features of any woman. Here was a collection that epitomised inclusive design. Notable details included square panels of velvety satin on the chest (proving that one needn’t bear breasts to tantalise), triangular necklines that highlighted the beauty of the sternum, and lace that delicately threaded different fabrics together to create a simultaneously covered and exposed dress.
Piccioli’s research was evident. For instance, he referenced John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost and one of the greatest masterpieces of the Northern Renaissance by Early Netherlandish master Hieronymus Bosch, Garden of Earthly Delights. To translate the latter into clean lines in a palette of dusty pinks, yellow ochre and mossy hues, Piccioli collaborated with famed British designer Zandra Rhodes (known for her hand-drawn prints).
The word “metamorphosis” was used frequently in the show notes to describe the collection, too, most likely with reference to Ovid’s magnum opus of the same name that chronicles the creation of the universe, hence patterns of fish transforming into birds. Even a phrase from the poem, “mutatas dicere formas corpora” (Latin for “forms changed into new bodies”), was inscribed on the hem of one dress.
Despite the complex, intellectual allusions, the clothes didn’t seem at all precious – probably the reason the word “punk” was also mentioned in the show notes to describe the collection, which, in Piccioli’s words was “the quest for the precious, without the preciousness”. Here was a collection from a classic establishment (Valentino does haute couture) that emboldened individual freedom and authenticity – something unsurprising, considering Piccioli’s collaboration with pink-haired Rhodes, the High Priestess of Punk herself. (Perhaps that’s why there was so much pink in the collection!)
The atelier must have been working with microscopes: tiny details kept popping up as we dissected the collection. Bags got smaller and smaller. And that little accessory slung across the models’ torsos? A compact mirror with a nook for lipstick – how thoughtful! Naturally, since the clothes referenced the Middle Ages, the jewellery did too. There were plenty of earrings made of silver (the Middle Ages was an era of silversmith apprenticeship) in the form of blades, swords, fish and birds.
Then there were the little printed or embroidered hearts with daggers through them. “The name of this motif is ‘Loveblade’,” explained Piccioli, which had the fashion world speculating if he was alluding to the heartbreak of losing Chiuri to Dior. Meanwhile, pleats – often with contrasting fabric on the inside – were seen on many of the looks and helped soften the entire collection.